December 19th, 2013
On December 18th, Paton Blough, the founder of Rehinge, and Dr. James Hayes, the chairman of the NAMI SC state board, visited the Bioethics Committee of Washington, DC. The Bioethics Committee was meeting to disscuss the necessity of the BRAIN Initiative.
The NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is part of a new Presidential focus aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. Long desired by researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, this picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought. – National Institutes of Health
At the Bioethics Committee meeting, Paton had his statement and question read to the committee:
DR. GUTMANN: Blough, from the founder of Rehinge. According — and here’s Paton’s question and it — it’s preceded by this.
According to the National Institute on Corrections, the United States has had a drop in psychiatric hospital beds from 700,000 40 years ago to less than 70,000 beds today. During this time, we have grown a mentally ill prison population of 1.2 million. The largest acute care facility is the LA County Jail.
As neuroscience continues to advance, it appears that it will continue to prove that medical brain issues can cause criminal behavior. In that context, what are the implications that are coming to our legal system?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Well, you decide that for the states. I mean we have a similar pattern in the UK. We lost a lot of beds, I think for good reasons as well as for bad reasons, in that we were institutionalizing people who didn’t need to be institutionalized. What we didn’t do so well was to get the infrastructure for community-based care funded properly as we did it, but I think, you know, we see a big tension in our mental health legislation between therapeutic justifications for restrictions on people’s choices or maybe disregarding its best choices because you think they’re impaired by disease conditions, and public protection issues and I would imagine you would see the same over here. You see a political oscillation between the two.
We have institutionalized improved care in custodial institutions and put it into the responsibility of our health services and not set in the prison services, but in relation to the particular question on neuroscience, I mean I think it’s all about predictions of dangerousness, is where I would expect to see the activity, and as we discussed earlier, it’s a little bit like the responsibility question.
I don’t think it’s a completely new question. I think it’s every time you get a new scientific opportunity, people think through how this — so I’ve seen presentations on MRI scans as predictions of whether people will be violent and the like, and I would expect it to be an issue there.
– Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Transcript, Meeting 15, Session 4
These comments were read by Dr Gutmann to the entire commission and panelist. The meeting was streamed live on Presidential Bioethics web site.